At PAFA I had my first studio meeting with the new MFA head Clint Jukkala and studio crit with Scott Noel. Clint has been going around to see each artists work in their studio and to get to know us better and our work. I've had the longest relationship with Scott of any teacher at the school besides Mike Gallagher, Scott and I have had a lot of great times together and is certainly the teacher I have learned the most from in the undergrad through to my MFA years, he's also my MFA Thesis reader. We can lock horns but in a great way and rib each other too---which is great.
It's funny as we still debate the same things so often and disagree on many of the same points for almost 6 years now, each trying to convince the other, move the other to change their minds on certain aspects of painting. Scott just doesn't love any painting that involves photography( though Degas gets a pass). So for him anytime I have any "camera conditioned art", work from my own photos, he's always more stick than carrott, thus any artist who uses photography never can win for him. Except for Degas. I know he feels invested in me as student and tells me this, we share many of the same issues as painters, however we sceperate at the paths of photography and illustration. He's pushing me a lot harder in the MFA than in the undergrad because he feels for me this is how my work will be challenged as a painter when I leave school. I agree on some levels and not in another. I think the orbit I seek to enter might now be the same orbit of artists like John Currin. I think I could be happy and successful being in a southwestern gallery or maybe a gallery similar to John Pence or Arcadia in NYC. I'm a figurative and narrative painter, and I like that and want to be stronger and better, and know I do not seek to be a modernist abstract painter.
The photography thing frankly I think is silly, great work can be done with the aid of photos and a lot of bad art done from life. Scott loves my plein air work better than anything else I do with the use of photography, and I had Scott's crit and my meeting with Clint the same day, back to back, and they both liked the two different aspects of my work but the opposite of what the other liked. Clint wasn't interested in the plein air, but liked this painting, the Climax of Play, in which I employed photos I took. Scott didn't like this painting so much because I think more of an aesthetic preference or prejudice because of the photos, but loved the plein air paintings I did this summer. There are different issues at stake in both types of work, different approaches to making an image and even different ways of handling paint--- but there are also similarities as well--and the plein air work definitely informs the studio work and work I do using the camera as a source. Clint felt that Climax was much more contemporary, which is probably the thing that maybe Scott didn't like about it. A lot of contemporary painters use photography from Desiderio to Kanevsky at school to Justin Mortimer and Daniel Pitin, who's work I just discovered. However there are paintings I did that Scott liked which he though were from life that were not--so I got him! But keep that between us, OK?
Sometimes getting different "likes," even opposite feedback can be confusing as a painter. You scratch you head trying to resolve all the feedback. I think its harder when its from people you really like and respect. If you don't like the critics work, or even personality I think it's easier to just dump it off. I feel photos or not its all a whole to me, all connected. This is the mash-up of the critic based program, because you can get very opposite views on your work, find it a bit confusing and maybe for a younger artist dispiriting, but in the end it's about me, not them. It can take a bit of thinking and reflection and searching after a critique to see if there are common cords, ideas, approaches or issues or sometimes just really an overriding personal preference or prejudice behind the critics views and opinions. Sometimes just being figurative, or painting a female figure is enough for some critics to dismiss or knock the work. Sometimes in the end of the crit you can just say, well, I don't agree? I remember Vincent Desiderio telling me that if something the critic says just doesn't stick, ring true or isn't useful--just toss it out.
In my Aesthetics and Criticism seminar with Tom Csaszar we had a class discussion of last weeks readings on the Aesthetics of Appearing by Martin Seel and a review of the work of Jennifer Bartlett's by Klaus Ottman.
Details from Bartlett's paintings
The PAFA Museum is currently hosting a retrospective of Bartlett's work. One of the great benefits of having a school which also has a great museum--it is being able to go down in class and actually talk about the work in front of the work.
Now I have to admit right off the bat I am not a huge fan of Bartlett's work. It doesn't grab me, and while some of the ideas like using the grid might sound interesting, in the end I want to be grabbed by the work, not the concept. If a concept sounds great on paper, fine, but the art has to grab me more than the idea. This is my constant issue with mimetic work vs non-retinal work.
The review by Ottman talked about her drawing chops, her painting chops, her ability to go from very abstract to very realistic work. Yes, she does cover that gamut, but her realistic chops are just weak, her paint handling is never as rewarding up close. And way too often I think in the modernists eyes any even half-way decent drawing- or heck any scribble in the process of making art is seen as being as good as a drawing by a great draughtsman. And I say hell no it isn't! Try and sell that weak-assed soup on the street and see how long you stay in business. The series of pool paintings are maybe the best of her realistic work, but fall far short of many great contemporary painters like the late Andrew Wyeth, or even current artist like Antonio Lopez or Vincent Desiderio for real feelings of melancholy. Or a host a finely talented female painters like these great woman painters! There is no reason for the scale in my mind and no bravura paint handling. Its clumsy painting and no better and any average first year student. The strokes or paint handling and techniques are flat and monotonous and the paint sinks into the canvas with a great dullness. I feel they get "In" and are accepted because people like her more conceptual abstract work. I think if she just did these paintings alone she would not be getting any hoopla or be as respected. Just my opinion, your mileage may vary
Tom and the class in the museum discussing the work
For me the habitual use of the grid on some of the pieces like this which I think is on loan from the MET seem like an afterthought and don't really seem to mesh with the rest of the piece well. Where I think it does work is pieces like Amagansett Dyptch #1 which is rich and has a woven, tapestry feeling to the work. It was interesting to discuss the work nonetheless and get others feelings about the work in front of the work. We also discussed how the show was hung, curated and if we agreed with how it was arranged, what we as curators might do differently. In the end for me I think she is much more successful as a drawer than an painter, the drawings have a reward and richness that makes you think of artist from Degas to Georges Seurat but still leave me pretty neutral to the work in the end.
In Mike Gallagher's class we had our class crit of our first assignments which was to use oblique strategies to introduce the conditions of failure and chance into our creative process that came from last week's class and a film on Brian Eno. Eno employs a huge list of strategies in his creative process when he gets stuck. Some of the ideas I used in my piece are:
Trust in the you of now
Turn it upside down
What mistakes did you make last time?
Abandon normal instruments
Change instrument roles
Don't be afraid of things because they're easy to do
I started by clipping newspapers and using matte medium to put them down of illustration board that I had covered with 2 coats of gesso. Then using a China marker I made some random marks using a straight edge. Working from a photos I shot of the old abandoned houses I have been working with since last year I massed in big shapes. I decide to work with acrylics as well, something I really haven't work wed too much. I turned the canvas the whole time. letting this slide and drip, using what was on the newspaper as sort of a drawing, or ignoring it, covering it it. I used chance in how I worked and if something failed or I didn't like it I had to decide to keep it or not. Paint, turn, paint, turn, drip, smush, etc. Then I decided to add a figure in, again working from a photo I shot.
To me the thing is trying to find a way to employ these ideas that work in an organic way, not just making a drawing for class. I did something very similar last year in Michael Moore's drawing class where we had to make a drawing employing a list of criteria or instructions we were given. I also used my fingers and a toothbrush a lot on this painting and tried to have fun as well. We so often forget fun or disregard it.
You can see the work in three stages, I did leave it over night and come back and finish it the next day. I was happy with the way some things happened here. The idea of employing failure or the chance of failure is something I think I do all of the time as a natural part of my process. You always risk failure, one stroke yes! the next--no!!!
I often wipe out work and restart, restate, and you do have the chance of happy accidents as a painter depending on your process. I my commercial work, well you can't have chance on a deadline or certainly not failure. Often I have to change up strategies in my mind and work in a single day, change my cartoonist hat to my painters beret or vise versa. I suppose maybe because of this I am used to having to really flex different methodologies. I didn't get the work reviewed this week because the class is fairly large and the crits for each person's piece was fairly long, so I'll get my class crit next week. The best thing about nest week is that Ann Gale is coming to the school, so a lot of people like me a really pumped for that!